Ever since Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Yair Golan warned Israel against becoming “morally corrupt”, and newly-resigned Defence Minister Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon expressed dismay at Israel’s loss of its moral compass, the world has been equally watching us with bated breath, looking for signs of imminent Nazism and racism to appear in Israeli society.
For the BBC of course this was manna from Heaven. BBC Watch reports on the BBC’s “World Have Your Say” radio program where they wondered aloud at this very moral compass that Israel looks set to lose. As you might expect, there was no such pondering about other, much more violent countries:
… However, BBC audiences have not been invited to ponder the question of whether the citizens of Austria (or America, Hungary, France, Switzerland, Finland or Denmark) have lost their moral compass en masse.
The May 20th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Have Your Say’ (titled “Has Israel Lost its ‘Moral Compass’?“, from 00:48) based its discussion around the resignation of Israel’s Minister of Defence on the same day and presenter Anu Anand was joined by four telephone interviewees.
Towards the end of the item, as Gregg Roman [Director of the Middle East Forum – Ed.] tried to provide listeners with insights into the Israeli political scene, Anand interrupted and refocused the discussion on the programme’s real topic:
“But can I just move you guys back to the…the….you know, the talk about how Israel is losing its values. I do understand there are heavy politics involved, but perhaps for a global audience…”
The BBC of course is not the only media outlet shedding crocodile tears for Israel’s worrying morality though they are a leading influence. As one reads media articles, social media posts, talkbacks on articles, or watches and hears TV and radio programs, the effect on the average Israeli is suffocating and infuriating.
I am therefore very thankful that I came across Vic Rosenthal’s (aka Abu Yehuda) excellent two-part series on this very subject which should be required reading for all pro-Israel advocates.
In part I of Adjusting the Moral Compass he describes the origin of this discussion on morality, which was the incident of the IDF soldier Elor Azaria who shot dead an (apparently) incapacitated terrorist after a knife attack. He then places this discussion of morality into a historical context and also locates where Israel sits on the world stage:
On the one side, we have the primarily secular academic, cultural, military, legal and media elites, mostly Ashkenazim whose families have been in Israel for generations, who have become increasingly vocal, even frantic, about what they call ‘undemocratic’, ‘racist’, ‘ultra-nationalist’, ‘fascist’ and ‘theocratic’ trends in society.On the other side – now a majority – are found many religious Israelis and those of Mizrachi or Soviet origin, who believe that the elites are anti-Zionist, self-hating, bigoted against religious people and ignorant about the true nature of our enemies.
Both sides believe that the other, if not reined in, will destroy the state.
The real issue is the degree to which our moral system should be universal or tribal.
Universalism, the belief that we are obligated to treat all human beings alike regardless of who they are has reached its apogee in Europe and the US, where no crime is more detested than ‘racism’.
Universalist ethics are opposed to tribalism, which prioritizes one’s own tribe, religious group or nation. There was no Enlightenment in the Islamic world, and Middle Eastern cultures are still highly tribalistic; so much so that attempts to create modern states while ignoring ethnic, religious and tribal realities have been (e.g., Syria and Lebanon) spectacular failures. One way to characterize the moral system of a culture is by where it falls on the universalism-tribalism axis.
Former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak tried to force Israel into the mold of a European or American “state of its citizens.” In the name of democracy, the Court opposed attempts to maintain a special status for Jews or Judaism. Foreign interests like the American New Israel Fund and the Union for Reform Judaism, as well as European-financed NGOs support this universalist vision, even to the point of calling for changes in our flag and national anthem because they don’t speak to our Arab citizens.
Of course they don’t. Why should they, in a Jewish state?
The environment is changing and the cultural organism must change too, if it is to adapt to it. In our new environment, a strongly universalist morality is not an advantage; it constitutes unilateral moral disarmament. Our state won’t survive as a copy of the US or Sweden (indeed, the pressures are such that neither the US nor Sweden may survive in their present form).
That doesn’t mean that we need to give up democratic government or adopt all the cultural practices of our neighbors, like their misogyny, religious coercion, or beheadings and barrel bombs. It doesn’t imply that we ought to view ourselves as superior to non-Jews or that we should deny non-Jews that live among us their civil rights.
What it does mean is that our objective should be a state that unashamedly prioritizes Jewish people, culture, religion and values.
In Part II Vic speaks of the consequences of moral equivalence, of applying a universalist belief to an area where tribalism rules:
The psychological consequences of our European-style ‘fairness’ on our tribal enemies are also counterproductive. They understand our ‘goodness’ as weakness, and take maximum advantage of it. It does not make them admire us or wish for peace; rather, it generates contempt and encourages them to continue using violent tactics.
What is true of our rules for warfare and counterterrorism also applies to our public diplomacy and other areas. Our leaders express an understanding of the supposed Palestinian need for a state and desire to sit down with them and negotiate a peace deal, while the Arabs publish maps on which Israel does not appear and educate their children to love martyrdom above all. We provide surgery in our best hospitals to the relatives of leaders of Hamas and the PLO, while they encourage their people to pick up a knife and stab a Jew.
One of the implications of a universalist morality is that there is no such thing as an enemy in the traditional sense. If anyone should be considered an enemy it would be the leaders of Hamas and the PLO; yet our doctors save the lives of their relatives. In this view even terrorists have rights, and the people of Gaza and the Arabs of Judea and Samaria shouldn’t be punished collectively for what their leaders do. After all, everyone is an individual and everyone has human rights.
Israelis have taken this European approach even further. Because of our (historically inappropriate) guilt complex toward the Palestinians, we might say that “everyone has human rights especially the Palestinians.”
But what if we realign our moral system to see the conflict in tribal terms?
This is war and the Palestinians are the enemy. Who speaks like this in Israel today?
You don’t supply water, electricity, food and cement to an enemy population, especially one which has no desire to overthrow its leadership. And the Palestinians, both in Gaza and Judea/Samaria have defined themselves as an enemy, by their choice of leaders, by what they teach in their schools and say in their official and social media, and in their popular support and enthusiastic participation in terrorism against Jews.
Collective punishment? Of course they should be punished collectively, because their guilt as an aggressor is collective.
Now before anyone gets outraged at the politically incorrect but (in my opinion) morally correct assertiveness expressed by Vic Rosenthal, let us just remind ourselves of a very similar instance that happened just last week – in New York. A knife-wielding man was shot dead – and guess what? There was no UN resolution or condemnation of New York cops, there were no editorials or programs on the BBC expressing hypocritical concern at the morality of the US. It was taken as a given that an armed man will be shot dead. As the Algemeiner reports on the “disproportionate response to the New York attacker“:
“Knife-wielding man shot dead in midtown Manhattan” was the headline making the rounds on the Internet last week. The man with the knife had not shouted “Allahu Akbar,” nor was he attempting to commit a terror attack. He was simply an apparently inebriated individual, identified as Gary Conrad, who went into a Food Emporium, where he allegedly became “aggressive and belligerent.”
According to NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill, “He was swearing at the people in the store, swearing at the workers in the store.” Swearing, imagine that. What a lethal menace!
A police officer called to the scene began struggling with Conrad, who pulled out a knife. Police officers ordered him to drop the knife, but he continued to approach them with the knife in his hand. At that point, O’Neill said, an officer and a sergeant opened fire on Conrad.
They did not shoot him once. They did not merely aim to neutralize him by shooting him in the legs or his arms. They shot him an incredible nine times. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Had this taken place in Israel, and had this man not been called Gary Conrad, but Mohammed, and had he not been merely an inebriated loon but a terrorist out to slash Jews, international outrage would have poured forth in torrents from the front page of every single news outlet and the mouth of every opinion maker worth his salt. The “disproportionate force” claim would have been thrown about and every self-respecting journalist would have asked why Israel had to kill the man — shooting him no fewer than nine times — instead of simply neutralizing him by shooting him in the legs or the arms and then taking him to hospital.
So far, not a single news report has questioned the judgment of the NYPD. No American liberal has come forth in self-righteous indignation, asking whether killing this man, who, after all, was not threatening to blow up the Food Emporium or stab anyone, may have been slightly on the disproportionate side.
Let us stop beating ourselves about the head and bewailing our loss or lack of morality, and instead we should be proud of just how well Israel and Israelis comport themselves while under the most extreme threat of constant attack and annihilation. We compare well not just in comparison to our degenerate neighbours, but compared to every Western country on earth.
Of course there is always room for improvement, and we cannot sit back and think we are saints, but nevertheless we have much to be proud of in our democracy, our enlightenment and yes, our morality.
Update: Lawrence in the comments provides us with another excellent link: Why some Jews are afraid of their inner-Nazi. It expresses similar sentiments to Abu Yehuda in a more concise manner. Go and read!